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1st Death from Bird Flu in India: What Is Avian Virus? What Do We Know?

Can you eat eggs and chicken? Or are you at the risk of catching the bird flu? Here’s all you need to know.

Updated
F.A.Q
4 min read

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bharadwaj

India reported its first death due to the avian influenza, more commonly known as bird flu, when an 11-year-old boy from Haryana succumbed to the virus on Tuesday, 20 July, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi. He is believed to be the first case of H5N1 virus among humans in India.

Meanwhile, a team from the National Center for Disease Control has been sent to the child's village, to detect more cases of bird flu.

Randeep Guleria, the Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi has, as per PTI, said:

“The transmission of the virus from birds to humans is rare and sustained human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus has not yet been established and therefore there is no need to panic. But then people working closely with poultry must take precautionary measures and maintain proper personal hygiene"

But, what is avian influenza? Can it be transmitted to human beings? Here’s all you need to know.

What is avian influenza or bird flu?

Avian influenza is a disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. This is said to occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other birds and animals, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously explained.

There are many types of bird flu, but H5N1 was the first bird flu virus found to infect humans. H5N1 and H7N9 are the most common strains of the virus.

What is H5N1?

H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes a highly contagious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza.

Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but transmission is difficult from person to person. H5N1 infection in humans can cause severe disease and has been found to have a high mortality rate.

How does the virus infect humans?

Almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected birds (live or dead), or H5N1-contaminated environments.

The virus does not easily infect humans, and has been found to be uncommon from person to person.

Even so, a team from the National Center for Disease Control has been sent to the child's village, to detect more cases of bird flu.

How common is it for human beings to be infected with the bird flu?

According to CDC, Avian flu viruses 'do not normally infect human beings'. Such an infection is rare, says Mayo Clinic website, adding that only sporadic cases have been reported since 2015.

However, if infected, the virus “can be deadly,” the health bodies say.

Does bird flu spread from one person to another?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), bird flu can be transmitted from one person to another, but again this is a rarity.

From 2003 to 2019, the WHO confirmed a total of 861 human cases of H5N1 worldwide, of which 455 deaths were recorded.

What are the symptoms of bird flu?

  • Cough

  • Fever (often high fever, >38 degrees Celsius)

  • Sore throat

  • Muscle aches

  • Headache

  • Shortness of breath

  • Diarrhoea

Infection can rapidly lead to severe respiratory illness like difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and neurological changes like altered mental status or seizures.

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Does this mean I should not eat eggs, chicken or duck?

Not really. Heat destroys avian viruses. Therefore, cooked poultry isn't a health threat. However, you should ensure that the meat is handled well and cleanliness is maintained while cooking it.

Most importantly, eggs and meat should be cooked well.

According to Mayo Clinic, the following precautions should be taken:

  • Use hot, soapy water to wash cutting boards, utensils and all surfaces that have come into contact with the raw poultry.

  • Because eggshells are often contaminated with bird droppings, avoid foods containing raw or undercooked eggs.

Is there a treatment for bird flu?

The antiviral drug oseltamivir can reduce the severity of the disease and may be helpful in preventing death.

However, candidate vaccines developed to prevent H5N1 infection are not ready for widespread use, which is why the continual transmission of the virus can lead to serious consequences for public health.

The avian flu virus had been reported earlier in India in January. Which states had reported the virus?

  • Rajasthan

  • Kerala

  • Himachal Pradesh

  • Haryana

States like Punjab, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh also sounded high alert.

Why is bird flu a cause for concern?

According to the Bird Count India, a partnership comprising organisations and groups, over the past seven to 10 days, there have been reports of wild birds dying in separate incidents at different locations in the country.

At the moment, no one knows whether these are causes of larger concern, but it is worth keeping an eye on the situation, it said, according to IANS.

“If you encounter a wild bird that is dead or dying, do not approach it, and under any circumstances, do not touch it, given the possibility (however small) that it might be infected with avian influenza. H5N1 is a highly contagious virus that can cause severe illness in people,” it warned.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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